Eggs. Pretty much a staple in most homes not just here in America, but throughout the world. Eggs, Everyone eats eggs, or most everyone does. The little things are just so so versatile. And wondrous things can be made from them. The bad thing about eggs is that most people in America and the rest of the industrialized world consume a product that is raised in questionable sanitary and humane conditions. As well as being fed some incredibly disgusting things. But then in America, how things get to the market is of little importance to most of the citizens, their concern is that the stuff is there. And that it is cheap.And when Americans go to the market, this is pretty much what they look for when looking to purchase eggs.White, uniform, sterile looking wadges of insipid homogenous relatively tasteless protein in the form of a thin shell covering a pale image of what a real egg truly is. Sadly, that's how I was raised. One day I was treated to real eggs from a backyard farm and all that changed. The flavor of real eggs is immense, they just have this complexity, this zest within them that begs for mere mortals such as we to do our best, to create great luscious and tasty things with them. And above all else, to want more and more of them. And so off to the market, and once there, sadly, we are disappointed. Stores normally have a plethora of eggs, tons of them. All different sizes and a huge mix of, well, hard to say. The various brands all claim different styles of production methods and claims for health benefits. One would think that the regulatory agencies of our great and wondrous government in their zeal to control as much of our existence as possible would simplify all these claims on the cartons of a grocery store staple such as eggs. And have sort of done so. basically they have laid down the law and told producers of eggs to deal with it themselves. Uhhh, what? Surely that isn't correct, right? Well, actually it is, the terminology used in labeling, the nomenclature and the phrases designed to make consumers grab one carton over the competitors; is basically unregulated. The industry itself has a few rules, but they are overshadowed by the zeal for terminology used in labeling by all of the producers themselves. Let's see if I can shed some light onto what is out there for all to see. Perhaps with some information, we can all be better consumers and we can all begin to make better, smarter choices for ourselves and our families.
To start, let's look at some terms on the packaging that have absolutely no meaning whatsoever.
Farm Fresh, All Natural, Antibiotic Free, and Hormone Free.
None of these terms actually has anything to do with eggs. If any person actually thinks that buying eggs in their local supermarket labeled farm fresh means they were harvested the day before, or in reality, even within the previous two weeks, they are sadly living in a dream world. All Natural is meaningless, just like any product on store shelves with that label, there are no defining standards for its use, so it gets used A LOT! And in the US it is illegal for egg producers to feed their chickens antibiotics or hormones, so by law, all eggs are such. However, the laws does allow egg producers to feed their chickens arsenic to help stop infections. Most of the arsenic is excreted, a small amount remains in the chicken and a tiny amount gets into the eggs. Is it harmful? Well, we don't really know just how much accumulates, we do know though that over time it is a definite big Class I carcinogen. So that leads into the first real class of eggs.
ORGANIC. USDA Certified Organic means that the eggs are laid by chickens that are fed a diet of grains that are grown using organic methods. It also means the chickens can be fed supplements but not any that contain the ground up remnants of cow spines or any other possible source of prions. And of course, no arsenic.
So far, we have no distinction as to how the chickens are raised. In America, 95% of all egg production is done in large crowded mass aviaries. Huge barns contain cages that house from 4 to 12 chickens with enough space that each individual bird gets 67 square inches to live. That's smaller than a sheet of paper. Wire floor, water to peck at and food squirted into the cage while eggs roll out to be collected. Barns with a hundred thousand chickens or so tend to have a distinctive odor and so are generally quite a ways from populated areas. And the quantities of waste are enormous. So, we then come to our first designation for the way chickens are raised, CAGE-FREE. This means that the huge barn where a hundred thousand chickens are raised has no individual cages. The birds generally have perches and nests of a sort, designed so the eggs that are lain in them roll out and are collected automatically. Still a nasty smelly stinky place though. But then we have the next designation, FREE RANGE. This means that the barn with that same hundred thousand chickens in it has a door in it that leads to the outside world, and even though the outside might be a cement slab, it's still there. So basically, not a lot of difference, but then we have the last designation for eggs, PASTURE RAISED. These chickens are living in Beverly Hills. They still might be stupid chickens and act like the Clampets on steroids at times, but they're living the dream life. Pasture raised birds generally have a relatively large area per bird in which to do natural chicken behaviors which is to peck and scratch for bugs and grubs, eat grass and weed seeds and crap where ever they want and not have to stand in it. The pasture normally has mobile coops where at night the chickens go to roost and to lay their eggs. In high production farms, the eggs are collected automatically. The advantages of this system for raising eggs are dramatic. No huge mounds of chicken waste piling up and stinking. The manure actually goes back to the land naturally and improves the soil. Insects, weeds, pests and problems are gone. There are no transportation costs associated withtrucking in huge amounts of grains grown on land fertilized with petrochemicals and sprayed with insecticides and herbicides. Plus, the big one, even though the price is higher, people pay that higher price because the quality of the product is far far greater than the insipid crappy industrial eggs listed above. The picture is of a box of eggs that some friends of mine in Austin started raising a few years ago. They do things right. Vital Farms, they are in all the Whole Foods in the country and I recommend them. However, here is a listing and rating of most of the better kinds of eggs available. (Egg Report Card) The other alternative is to do what I do, which is go to the local farmers market and get to know the people there. All the markets have people that raise chickens and sell the eggs. Local farmers have found the advantages of raising chickens on their farms. The stupid things go out there and eat all the bugs and grubs and weed seeds and fertilize the ground. Hunh, ain't that something. And for doing all that for the farmer, they then give them a bunch of eggs that they laid. It's almost as if it's the natural cycle of things. Almost.
Lastly, just a word about the color of eggs. Brown eggs are not in anyway any indication as to the quality or wholesomeness of the eggs. Egg shell color is a function of the variety of the chicken that laid it. For decades the modern American shopper wanted clean white sterile looking eggs, and so producers used those hens that laid white eggs. But eggs come in white, brown, blue and green. All are good, and all depend on how they are raised and what they are fed as to what quality and ultimately how they taste.
Well, there's one more thing I want to talk about, and that's the unnatural side of eggs. Some one some where decided that since eggs are natural repositories for the beneficialOmega 3 fatty acids that our bodies need; that it should be possible to artificially increase the amount in eggs by feeding the chickens chemicals. And so they did, and thus has begun an industry that claims to promote greater health, but in reality no such claims have ever been tested, nor the methods used been subjected to any sort of scrutiny.
But then again, that's the way it is here in America